Character, Kid Review, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachmann

My sixth grader has returned with another MMGM review this week–Stefan Bachmann’s THE PECULIAR. And next week, I will for sure have a review from my fourth grader. She’s almost finished with a debut middle grade book she’s loving and plans to review. But first, I’ll let my sixth grader tell you about this fantasy middle grade.


The Peculiar by Stefan BachmannDon’t get yourself noticed and you won’t get yourself hanged.

In the faery slums of Bath, Bartholomew Kettle and his sister Hettie live by these words. Bartholomew and Hettie are changelings—Peculiars—and neither faeries nor humans want anything to do with them.

One day a mysterious lady in a plum-colored dress comes gliding down Old Crow Alley. Bartholomew watches her through his window. Who is she? What does she want? And when Bartholomew witnesses the lady whisking away, in a whirling ring of feathers, the boy who lives across the alley—Bartholomew forgets the rules and gets himself noticed.

First he’s noticed by the lady in plum herself, then by something darkly magical and mysterious, by Jack Box and the Raggedy Man, by the powerful Mr. Lickerish . . . and by Arthur Jelliby, a young man trying to slip through the world unnoticed, too, and who, against all odds, offers Bartholomew friendship and a way to belong.

One of the things I like about THE PECULIAR is that the main character was very relatable. He was Peculiar, so it made him different from everyone else, but it still made you feel his fear and nervousness, even if you’ve never been an outsider. Bartholomew was always thinking about how he could save his sister and how he could help everyone and stop them from dying. I understood where he was coming from and why he did what he did.

Also, I liked how it was set in a world so unlike what we live in. The place was full of diverse people, but you see their individual needs and how the government could probably help. The setting was polluted and full of weird things that added a uniqueness that is hard to find. It took me away to a place that seems so different but it feels real.

Even more so, I liked how the author plotted out the story to have an ever-twisting plot. There were some times where it was as different as left and right. At the beginning I would have been thinking it was left, while the whole time it was right.

So, in the end, THE PECULIAR was an amazing read, and, like last time, I will give you no spoilers.

Character, Instagram, Reading, Review, Young Adult

10 BLIND DATES and A Few Other YA Books You Should Read

I intended to have another MMGM this week–this time from my fourth grader–but some other school work took precedence, and my sixth grader didn’t have another one prepared to jump in. However, I’ve been catching up on my own reading and realized I’d piled up quite a few mini-reviews. So here are a few young adult books I really loved. If you’d like to see these reviews as I post them, you can follow me on Instagram at @michelleimason.


10 Blind Dates by Ashley ElstonI’ve been intending to read 10 BLIND DATES by Ashley Elston for months. I finally started it last week—and finished it within a day. The story’s about Sophie, who stays home from Christmas break to be with her boyfriend—only he breaks up with her. Her huge family decides to console her by setting her up on 10 blind dates (giving her Christmas Eve and Day off). I was already on board from this setup alone, but here are the five things I loved best about it.

1. The dates! From participating in a nativity to bowling in costume, these dates were hilarious and sometimes cringe-worthy. I loved how creative they were and couldn’t wait to see what the family members would come up with next.
2. The guys – I half-expected every guy picked out to be awful, but that wasn’t the case at all (I mean, some were). It was a really great representation of different types of guys.
3. The love interest – If you pick up this book, the description does not give anything away about who she ends up with, so I won’t here either, but the chemistry was fantastic.
4. Sophie’s family – So crazy but also wonderful. Also, I really loved the dynamic with her cousins and how she regained her closeness with them throughout the book.
5. Sophie’s sister – There was a more serious side plot going on with Sophie’s sister on bedrest, about to have a baby. I think sometimes writers are afraid to include a serious note in a romantic comedy, but it added a really great balance to the story. After all, that’s how life is.

So, that’s my take on 10 BLIND DATES, a thoroughly enjoyable and quick read. If you’ve read it too, let me know your thoughts!


Lovely War by Julie BerryI really enjoyed the unique storytelling of LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry. It’s a YA historical with a fantastical twist, told from the viewpoints of Aphrodite and other Greek gods. Interestingly, the gods are in the time of World War II, looking back on two love stories from World War I. Hazel, a shy pianist, meets James, an aspiring architect, right before he ships off for the front. Aubrey, a talented jazz musician and part of an all African-American regiment, meets YMCA volunteer Colette, who has lost her entire family and first love to German brutality. I loved the short chapters and back and forth between the gods debating the importance of love, war, and music versus the actual stories of these young people living through an unspeakable time.

Every one of these characters was compelling. I was drawn to their stories and hoping they would have happy endings, even while I expected the worst in a brutal war that took so many lives. I really appreciated how this story was told and highly recommend it.


I kept seeing this book all over Instagram, and the title alone was enough to make me want to read it. I’m a total sucker for clever titles. But then I read the description, and TWEET CUTE by Emma Lord is basically like YOU’VE GOT MAIL.

Pepper runs her family fast food chain’s Twitter account, and when the chain steals Jack’s family deli’s grilled cheese recipe, he engages in a Twitter war with her. Meanwhile, at school, they’ve never gotten along, but start getting to know each other and maybe even fall for each other. Add in an anonymous app they’re talking to each other on, which the reader is clued into.

I seriously couldn’t put this book down. I read it in a single day, despite currently drafting a book, starting eLearning with my kids, and everything else that goes with all of us being home. So that should tell you something about this book. It’s smart, fun, fast-paced, and a great escape from the anxiety and worry around us. Check it out!


I read the first book in this series, A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY, last year and loved it. I loved this one even more.

I found it interesting that with the exception of a couple of brief chapters, this book is written from two completely different points of view, leaving the reader wondering what’s happening with the two original characters. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I was quickly drawn into the stories of Grey and Lia Mara. They are both incredibly well-developed characters facing really tough choices. But I also really appreciated the secondary characters. With a couple of them, I wasn’t sure whether I should be rooting for them too or not. I was turning pages quickly to find out!

But really, in general I was turning pages quickly to get to the end of this book. I was reading this at a time when I had very little reading time due to other commitments, and this book made me snatch time whenever I could to find out what would happen next. I was so worried the characters would make the wrong decisions—and that they might not have any other options. The stakes are so well done. I can’t wait for the finale. Well done, Brigid Kemmerer!
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Also, super excited this book is from my publisher, Bloomsbury 😍.


I love getting so sucked into a book that I read it long into the night, which is what happened to me with THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE by Cynthia Hand. There was one night I had 100 pages left at 11:15 and almost went for it. But I do have kids to wrangle in the mornings :).

I read this book right before Christmas, and it was a perfect read during that time. A Scrooge retelling, it follows Holly Chase, who was visited five years ago by the three Ghosts and didn’t mend her ways, so she died. Ever since, she’s been working for Project Scrooge as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past, and she stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on without her. She’s pretty miserable, until the latest Scrooge is unveiled as a seventeen-year-old boy with a story very similar to her own and she embarks on a quest to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistake she did.

I loved how Cynthia Hand approached this retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, updating it for a modern audience. Holly was an interesting character to me because she wasn’t very likable for much of the book—but then, she was a Scrooge, so that makes sense. Her character arc is what makes this book great. One of the reasons I couldn’t put the book down was that I wasn’t sure how it would all end, but I finished it satisfied. Even though the holidays are now over, I still highly recommend this book. If you aren’t up for reading off-season, grab it and hold on until this December!

Character, Kid Review, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: THE CHANGELINGS by Christina Soontornvat

Yes, you read that right–I have another review of a Christina Soontornvat book this week. I’m going to just turn this completely over to my sixth grader today instead of quoting his review, but first, I’ll explain that we met Christina last year at OMG BookFest, and he picked up a signed copy of THE CHANGELINGS. He always has a row of about 20 new books waiting to be read because books are all he asks for at Christmas and his birthday, but he loves to go back and re-read books. So even though he reads 4-5 books a week, probably 3-4 of those are re-reads. Anyway, after reading A WISH IN THE DARK, he pulled out THE CHANGELINGS, and here is his review. Everything below the line is from him 😀.


I loved The Changelings. The Changelings is my favorite book I’ve read this month. Here is the preview…

The Changelings by Christina SoontornvatAll Izzy wants is for something interesting to happen in her sleepy little town. But her wish becomes all too real when a mysterious song floats through the woods and lures her little sister Hen into the forest…where she vanishes. A frantic search leads to a strange hole in the ground that Izzy enters. But on the other side, she discovers that the hole was not a hole, this place is not Earth, and Hen is not lost. She’s been stolen away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to bring her home.

But inside Faerie, trouble is brewing-and Izzy is in way over her head. A ragtag group of outlaw Changelings offer to help, but she must decide whether a boulder that comes to life, a girl who looks like a ghost, and a boy who is also a stag can help her save Hen before it’s too late.

That sounds exciting… Doesn’t it? Well it gets better. I couldn’t put it down. Izzy as a character is amazing. She starts out wanting/needing adventure more than anything else. But when her sister goes missing, well, that quote on the cover just about sums it up: “Everything seemed boring…until now.” It causes her to realize how much she can do to help as she mysteriously goes down a hole. Kind of like Alice in Wonderland, right? She grows to realize who she really is.

Another thing that I like about this book is the other characters she meets along the way. She meets a band of rebels, named Lug, Dree, and Selden. They each bring to the story in their own unique way. Lug provides comic relief to the fullest with his ability to make others laugh. Dree gives the story a skeptic so everyone doesn’t go off the rails and ruin what they are doing. She also is a very good friend once Izzy has her trust. Selden is more gruff and mysterious. He keeps everyone from killing themselves. He begins to become more trusting and open. Selden has the best character development of all of them.

And a final thing that I like is the setting. Faerie is magical. It is covered in huge forests, rivers, mountains, and overly large boneyards. (That last part scares me, we aren’t told why it’s there!) But the people are magical too. It’s not that they have magic (though some of them do), but there is almost every fairy creature imaginable. You name it, it’s there.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Changelings. After reading The Changelings, try the next one, In a Dark Land.

See spoilers below:

 

 

YOU ACTUALLY THINK I WAS GOING TO GIVE YOU SPOILERS!?!? NO WAY!!!!

Character, Kid Review, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: A WISH IN THE DARK by Christina Soontornvat

I’m back with another MMGM review by my sixth grader this week. On March 24, we spent much of the day enjoying the digital launch events for Christina Soontornvat’s A WISH IN THE DARK. She had everything from a sketch-off with Max Brallier (LAST KIDS ON EARTH series) to weird stuff in her house with Stuart Gibbs (SPY SCHOOL and other series). If you’re interested, you can still find those on her YouTube page here. Authors are finding a lot of great ways to connect with readers while everyone’s stuck at home!

I’m actually halfway through the book and really enjoying it myself, but since my son already finished it and he’s the target audience, I’m going to let him do this week’s review again. But first, here’s the cover and description.

A Wish in the Dark by Christina SoontornvatAll light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

So now I’ll turn it over to my sixth grader.

I really liked how A WISH IN THE DARK displayed a fun, magical-ish world that’s nothing like anything we have here. But it has real people with real desires and it feels true.

It has some very good character development. The main character, Pong, was born in a prison, and the main leader there believes “Trees drop their fruit straight down” so children have to stay in the prison until they’re 13. Pong knew that was unfair and started out always protesting, but he developed into a more mature character. He learns how to focus on fixing the things he can.

There’s also the other main character, Nok, who is from one of the rich families. Her dad is the warden of the prison that Pong is in. She doesn’t see the unfairness of the rules because her family is wealthy and the rules were made by those families. So before Pong fully develops into his character, he escapes, and Nok starts trying to track him down. She goes from being kind of inflexible with the rules to realizing some things aren’t fair and that some families can’t do anything else. She realizes she needs to fight back too.

I really liked the setting. It happens in this world full of different lights and canals. It’s definitely different from the cities we have, but there’s also other places that are peaceful villages and temples up in the mountain. It’s a good mix of fun and peaceful, and the description is very good.

From what I’ve read so far, I second all of his points. The description is fantastic, and I’m really enjoying the characters. So definitely check this book out!

Since my son averages four to five books every week and has extra time on his hands at the moment, I’ll probably have another one of these for you next week–unless my fourth grader decides she wants in on it 😉.

Drafting, Writing

It Is Finished! My Longest Draft Ever

Hey, friends! So, it’s been a really long time since I’ve posted an update about my writing. I looked back through my posts and found one about revising YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED from October, and then there was one about how I tried pantsing a book last summer. (That sounds really strange if you aren’t a writer, but the writers DO know what I mean 😉.)

Anyway, that book I was writing last summer? I ended up setting it aside because I just couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I do intend to go back to it, but sometimes you just need some distance. What this means is that for the first time in quite a while, I went more than a year without finishing a draft. In fact, the last time I finished a first draft was May 2018, when I finished writing YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED. Of course, I have done a lot of revising on that in the meantime 😀.

Last September, while I was still trying to figure out that other project, I had an idea for a new one and jotted down a few thoughts. Over the next couple of months, I added more ideas for it, and in December, I decided to sit down and draft for real. For me, this means setting an end deadline in Scrivener that gives me daily word count goals. Generally, I set my deadline so that I’m writing about 1,800 words per day.

I know many people find it hard to create in an anxious or stressful environment. For me, the best way to cope with anxiety and stress is to have goals. As much as I hate drafting, it gives me focus, and I’ve needed that for the past several months. As I already shared here on the blog, in early December, my best friend suffered a massive brain bleed while on vacation. Her family has shared her story and updates on a GoFundMe page here. At the end of December, she was transported back to Missouri, and I was able to start visiting her at the hospital. I wrote a significant portion of this book sitting in her hospital room, sometimes brainstorming ideas with family members or talking aloud to her, even when she was sleeping. With COVID-19, I can’t visit her right now (she moved to a rehab hospital a few weeks ago), but she’s still on my mind constantly.

And then there’s COVID-19 itself. Everyone in my family has stayed healthy so far. My kids have been home from school since March 13, and my husband started working from home a week ago. It’s a change for all of us to be here together, but we’ve gotten into a pretty good routine. It’s definitely a blessing that my kids are old enough to manage most of their school on their own. But I’d be lying if I didn’t think initially about how having everyone here might affect my drafting momentum. I had decided at the beginning of March to step it up to 2,000 words per day, despite what Scrivener was telling me, and I was able to stick to that, even with everyone here, plus overseeing eLearning and general anxiety about what’s happening in the world.

So, here I am on April 1 with a finished draft. It’s my longest draft ever at 90,983 words. It’s also messy, as all first drafts are. I’m going to let it sit for a few days, and then I will get back to the part I love most–REVISING!

To celebrate, today we’re going to make cupcakes. Usually I treat myself to a gourmet cupcake as a reward for finishing a draft, but making them ourselves has the added bonus of a family activity 😍.

How are you all doing with your writing? Have you drafted anything new lately? How do you celebrate milestones?

Character, Kid Review, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner

Hi everyone! With my kids home from school, I’ve invited them to participate in reviews. First up is my sixth grader with a review of MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner. This book just came out last week, and as I’m sure you can imagine, debuting during quarantine is quite challenging. We are excited to help spread the word about this awesome book!

First of all, Arianne sent out some amazing pre-order gifts, and last I heard, she still had some extras available due to canceled events. You can see details on her Instagram here. But here’s a picture of my son with the book and swag, followed by a description of the book.

Ben Hardy believes he’s cursed by potatoes. And now he’s moved to Idaho, where the school’s mascot is Steve the Spud! Yeah, this cannot be good.

After accidentally causing the mascot to sprain an ankle, Ben is sentenced to Spud duty for the final basketball games of the year. But if the other kids know he’s the Spud, his plans for popularity are doomed. Ben doesn’t want to let the team down, so he goes to great lengths to keep it a secret. No one will know it’s him under the potato suit . . . right?

And now I’m going to hand this review over to my sixth grader. He’s going to switch up the format from my usual five things, so here we go…

All right. MY LIFE AS A POTATO was an amazing book. I couldn’t put it down, and I finished it in a day. Ben is a seventh grader that moves to the school in Idaho. He makes you feel what it is like to be a new kid in a new school where things are different, even if you’ve never been a new kid before. Ben gives the story the feeling that it actually is real and influences the story in so many ways.

It made me laugh when he dressed as Steve the Spud, fell down, and rolled into the cheerleader pyramid, and all the cheerleaders screamed as they fell on top of him. That’s just one example of the funny stuff that happened in the book.

It was an always-be-yourself moral, but it was more about having good friends by your side who won’t care what you’re doing. It’s important to be yourself and if your friends are good, they’ll support you no matter what. I really liked that moral.

Arianne Costner really helped the story come to life by using description that made you feel like you were in the story.

I can’t wait to read this book myself! I’ll be bringing you more sixth grader reviews–and maybe a fourth grader review or two–while we’re at home. Thanks for stopping by!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Series Review: The Agency by Y.S. Lee

So, I’ve had a little time to read lately…

But in all seriousness, one of my reading goals for this year was that if I read the first book in a series and liked it, I would go ahead and read the rest of the series instead of getting distracted by other books on my TBR in between. Anyway, the series I started a couple of weeks ago has been out quite a while (the first book came out in 2010), but I’m really glad I chose it off my library wish list. (There are currently 125 books on there, so it’s not surprising some of them are from 10 years ago.)

I know I usually post reviews on Mondays, but seriously, who knows what day it is anyway? 🤣

So, today’s review is for The Agency series by Y.S. Lee, set in Victorian London. It’s listed as YA historical, although it feels more adult after the first book, as she jumps ahead many months in each one. Granted, I often feel that way about YA historical, since teen characters at that time were essentially treated as adults anyway. But here are the covers, followed by the description of the first book to give you a taste.

A Spy in the House by Y.S. LeeThe Body at the Tower by Y.S. LeeThe Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. LeeRivals in the City by Y.S. Lee

 

Orphan Mary Quinn lives on the edge. Sentenced as a thief at the age of twelve, she’s rescued from the gallows by a woman posing as a prison warden. In her new home, Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, Mary acquires a singular education, fine manners, and surprising opportunity. The school is a cover for the Agency – an elite, top-secret corps of female investigators with a reputation for results – and at seventeen, Mary’s about to join their ranks.

With London all but paralyzed by a noxious heat wave, Mary must work fast in the guise of lady’s companion to infiltrate a rich merchant’s home with hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the Thorold household is full of dangerous secrets, and people are not what they seem – least of all Mary.

Here are the five things I liked most:

1. The premise – I’m always a sucker for spy novels, and I also really love books set in Victorian London, so it was a double whammy for me. It was interesting that Mary’s situation added the intrigue of having been condemned to death for stealing.

2. The romance – Ms. Lee does an excellent job stretching this romance out over four books. The characters are 17 and 19 in the first book, and I kind of lost track by the end of the last book, but I think about two years had passed. James Easton is the perfect foil for Mary.

3. Mary’s character growth – While this description doesn’t give a hint of some of the issues Mary has to deal with, I don’t think it’s spoiling things too much to say that Mary is half-Chinese but has passed as fully English with few questions. A significant part of her character arc throughout the four books is accepting who she is.

4. The historical details – I love it when I read a historical novel and feel like I’m truly living in that time. From the mundane to the huge (construction of Big Ben), these books were so well-researched. I’ve read a lot of books set in Victorian England, and I learned new things :).

5. The mysteries – I really enjoyed the mysteries in each book and how they wrapped up. Truly fun reads!

What have you been reading lately?